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Where Dawkins' "The Ancestor's Tale" parcels out evolution from the human present going backwards, Lane's book presents evolution from its origin heading forwards. Where we can use Dawkins to test our hypotheses about how human mental capabilities arose from our recent ancestors we can use Lane to text hypotheses about the evolutionary process itself from end to end. Lane's book is an astonishingly effective overview of the process, written as simply as I can imagine possible yet conveying a due sense of the complexity involved, both in the phenomena themselves and in the thinking and methods wielded by today's evolutionists.
Could so many brilliant and capable people be wrong about the mechanism behind evolution? Lane himself periodically pro forma credits natural selection with all the wonders he presents, each time prompting me to imagine a more plausible mechanism. Always in the background, though, is awareness that all these brilliant scientists subscribe, as he does, to the modern synthesis. It's sobering. But bear in mind, our enterprise is not science, it's natural philosophy. We're in the humanities.
I will share with you a framework I've adopted on which to hang speculations about evolution. There is no evidence for it, and nothing particular to recommend it, except it may inspire you to come up with your own version, to serve as a rack on which to arrange and re-arrange your assumptions. My framework divides evolution into five stages:
1. Evolution begins as diverse chemistry.
2. Much of this chemistry gets transcribed into DNA and RNA.
3. DNA develops machinery making it intelligent, able to create intelligently, maybe pre-adaptively.
4. The genome learns to build some of its intelligence into its creatures.
5. The genome starts building into its creatures (us) some of its own volition. (Volition means, the equivalent of our conscious decision-making and freewill.)
I think of my five stages as corresponding to five distinct mechanisms of evolution. My first stage might correspond to something purely thermodynamic, the second to something like natural selection. The fourth might correspond to Lamarckism, the fifth to something like my volitional genome. The third? l've no idea. But I feel on safe ground assuming that over 4 billion years the dominant mechanism changed several times. It seems to me unlikely that a single mechanism dominated over all that time. There's no superior logic in supposing so.
Lane's book provides us with a wonderful opportunity for testing such a scheme and translating it into appropriate mechanisms. He presents evolution through "Ten Great Inventions." This challenges me to test the fit of my five stages to these inventions. In my scheme, The Origin of Life belongs to stage 1, DNA, and Photosynthesis belong to stage 2. The Complex Cell and Sex belong to stage 3. Movement, Sight and Hot Blood belong to stage 4. And Consciousness belongs to stage 5.
Isolating from all of evolution just ten inventions is a brilliant device, giving us a sampling of evolution's accomplishments over time. And notice, his inventions march in the precise reverse order of Dawkin's book, tracing just those inventions that lead to us. His book in conjunction with Dawkins book serves our needs perfectly.
I suggest, as you read this book, imagine for each of Lane's inventions what must be true of the evolutionary process at that time. The first invention requires very little more than today's physics and chemistry. But the complex cell, including the transport system described in "Movement"? Here you must be your own Galileo, conceiving of new worlds no one has grasped before. You will be treading where very few others have trodden. Orthodoxy in evolutionary theory in the form of Darwinism, while becoming an emblem of free thought, has actually suppressed it.
What should our criterion be? What is true? I think that's inaccessible. l propose the criterion, what would it be efficacious to think? What kind of natural philosophy would most fruitfully connect our being evolved to our experience of self? What would most profoundly connect us to the rest of evolved nature? What would make for a sound basis for further experiment and speculation?
Lane's book gets drier towards the end. You can safely confine your reading to the first eight inventions, the first 200 pages.